Table of contents_Handbook of Failure

Handbook of Failure: Perspectives from Sociology and Other Social Sciences

Editors: Adriana Mica, Anna Horolets, Mikołaj Pawlak and Paweł Kubicki


  1. Introduction, Adriana Mica, Anna Horolets, Mikołaj Pawlak and Paweł Kubicki

The chapter presents the aims of the handbook in the general context of proliferating studies on failure. It makes the point about the currently observable change in the modality of framing failure. Thus, from a rather taxonomical-descriptive perspective (failure of what happened) to a more counterfactual-normative framing (failure of what could have happened or failure to anticipate what should not have happened). The chapter places the handbook in dialogue with other collective volumes or edited collections on failure.



PART 1: Definition, Types

The part overviews how failure is understood in social sciences, and what the main analytical frameworks for the study of its mechanisms are. It also presents the types of failure that can be considered as representative for the manner in which sociologists approach failure, or in which they could analyse it.

(2) [(Partial) Failures of Process Innovation and Routinization — Albert O. Hirschman], Michele Alacevich

(3) [Experiments and Successful Failures], Matthias Gross

(4) Strategic Failures and Adaptive Failures: Individual Actions and Systemic Implications, Angelo Zotti

(5) Career Failure, Julia Gruhlich


PART 2: Strategic Research Sites for the Study of Failure: Overview & Case Studies

The part overviews and exemplifies how the study of failure plays out in various research contexts. Some of these sites are well recognized subjects that have a rich tradition of study already (such as collective action). Others have emerged in the framework of more recently formulated investigations in sociology (such as the financial activities). The part moves from more theoretical discussions about the state-of-the-art to concrete case studies accounting for the normative and value ridden concerns that are part of the debate in contemporary sociology.

(6) The Unintended Failure of Collective Action, Francisco Linares

(7) Failure and Crime: A Result of Social Causation or Social Selection or Both? Tamanna M. Shah

(8) The Failures of Money’s Social Promises since the Past Five Decades, Jocelyn Pixley

(9) Concept of Failure for Regulated Bank, James R. Barth

(10) Civil Society in Japan: Why Failed? Akihiro Ogawa

(11) Ritual Mistakes, Failure, and Efficacy, Ute Hüsken

(12) Failing to Build Back Better? Observations on the Christchurch Rebuild, Steve Matthewman, Hugh Byrd and Christine Kenney

(13) Nudges That Fail, Cass R. Sunstein [republish]


PART 3: Relation between Failure and Other Processes

The part makes the step from the study of failure as a substantive issue to the research of failure in relation with other processes. The most commonly researched linkage is, certainly, the puzzle of failure and learning. In addition, the handbook accounts for linkages that are possibly less visible, but which are nevertheless highly relevant. In this manner, the handbook establishes a dialogue with recent developments in other domains of research.

(14) Failing to Learn, or Learning to Fail? Accounting for Persistence in the Acquisition of Spiritual Disciplines, Erin F. Johnston

(15) The Material Ecologies of Policy Failure, Timothy Carroll and Kelly Robinson

(16) Failure and Community Embeddedness, Heli Helanummi-Cole

(17) Disclosing Failure: A Dramatic Moment in Social Entrepreneurship, Roxanne Persaud


PART 4: Related Analytical Concepts

 The part covers substantive issues and processes that are related to failure, without however being identical with it. Various research domains – such as unintended consequences, mistakes, hazards, risk, misconducts etc. – use a conceptual vocabulary that semantically conflates with the one of failure. To have a perspective on some of the main contributions in the related fields is important in order to be able to better understand what failure really is, what are its semantic and conceptual boundaries, as well as the manner in which its study intersects with other fields.



Part 5: Great Debates in Failure Studies

The part overviews the key moments as well as hot spots of theoretical and analytical confrontations in the research on failure. It starts from the debates of an analytical kind and later turns to the debates that convey normative and ideological messages.

(18) Learning in and from Policy Failure, Claire A. Dunlop


Part 6: Success and Failure: Just How Big Is the Divide?

The part evidences the recurrent interest in bringing an equilibrium between the study of failure and the study of success, as well as in trying to integrate these two substantive issues into a broader research framework.

(19) Invisible Elbow, Charles Tilly [republish]

(20) Preventing Major Disasters: Success and Failure as Two Sides of the Same Coin, Jan Hayes

(21) [Success and failure in education, fear of failure, successful students, laddishness at school], Carolyn Jackson

(22) [Epistemology of failure, writing, failure as necessary, composition and rhetoric], Allison Carr


Part 7: From Failure in Social Sciences to Failure of Social Sciences

The part reveals criticism of the manner in which social sciences, and sociology in particular, had addressed and dealt with the values and political agendas or regimes that are nowadays considered problematic.



Part 8: Bias for Failure, Bias for Success and Bias for Hope in Society and Social Sciences

The part reveals a discussion in sociology and social sciences that recently gains increasing popularity and concerns the manner in which some of the authors, or individual theories, manifest biases towards failure or success. We envisage that this part will attract considerable interest from the readers.

(23) Politics and the Significance of Failure, Jeff Malpas and Keith Jacobs

(24) A Mathematics of Failure: The New Mythology of Entrepreneurship, Olivier Germain

(25) [The Urban “Underclass” in the Social and Scientific Imaginary of America], Loïc Wacquant